Change of scenery in last-ditch bid for deal

Talks between the two old enemies Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil convened again yesterday with a view to forming a government, writes Daniel McConnell

But rather than reconvene in the Sycamore Room, the sides met in the more erudite surroundings of the Provost’s Library in Trinity College Dublin down the road.

According to sources close to the process, Fine Gael reached out to Trinity and asked could they facilitate the talks because Fianna Fáil had wanted a neutral venue.

The Provost, Dr Paddy Prendergast, was happy to make available his grand home, no 1 Grafton Street, which dates back to the 1760s, until tomorrow morning. The library, which has a wall of books on one side, comes complete with a grand 19th century oak table, and both teams are also being given access to two break out rooms, normally used for entertaining by the Provost.

The library itself looks over a picturesque “secret garden” and was described by one source as a “very soothing environment”.

The advantage of the Provost’s House is that it is away from the prying eyes and ears of the media and both sides were operating a near media black out, a clear sign things were progressing.

According to leading Architectural journals, the Provost’s Library Room is remarkable for the quality of its plaster work, chiefly the ceiling, it was clear last night that a considerable more plaster work is needed for a government to work.

With major issues like Irish Water, tax policy, and housing to overcome, a lot of coffee and patience could be required if any progress. Five or six issues of main policy differences remained last night but sources have said there is sufficient confidence these issues can be overcome.

Sources have also said a paper about how the minority government would work has largely been signed off on, but comes with the proviso that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Change of scenery in last-ditch bid for deal

There was also a meeting of the Independent Alliance who vented their anger at weekend reports in the Sunday Independent which suggested there is a €13bn wishlist from them in return for supporting Enda Kenny.

Michael Healy-Rae also voiced his annoyance at the report, which he described as unhelpful. The clear suggestion from them was this was put out by Fine Gael in a bid to smoke out the less inclined or jittery members and force the hands of those with whom a deal was possible. They were maintaining their position that a written document between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil would be needed before they could consider giving their support. FG sources last night expressed their confidence that such matters can be completed to people’s satisfaction.

But while that was all going on for most of the day yesterday, there was one question being asked by most people inside the talks and out.

Just what are the Labour Party at?

All weekend, speculation was rife that they were ready to re-enter Government.

This is a party that was decimated at the polls in February, losing 30 of the 37 seats it won in 2011.

This is a party which had been beaten down by Fine Gael for five years, yet some in the party saw the benefit in considering re-entering government.

It was akin to Stockholm syndrome and it was a complete nonsense.

Finally, some sense appeared to emerged from within the oldest political party in the country’s history.

Senior sources said there is “significant scepticism” to the notion of re-entering government and grave doubt that any recommendation to re-enter government would pass through a party conference.

The weekend talk about Labour made an already confusing situation even more complex.

Now, with the Labour signalling it will not be part of any new coalition, the question is will they be willing to support or facilitate a government from the opposition benches.

Several parties sources have said this is very possible, as they do not want to block any progress, and they hope to extract some measure in return, possibly a Seanad seat or two.

Things appear to be moving at last, but talk of a second election remains firmly on the lips of most walking around Leinster House.


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